Saturday, December 16, 2017

Bleak Theory

"In the beginning there was nothing and it has been getting steadily worse ever since." 

By way of Three Pound Brain, Paul Ennis gives us "Bleak Theory." Post HERE with excerpts below. Do read the whole thing if you get a chance. This was published back in October and I've only now just gotten around to carefully reading it and posting here at After Nature. Again, below are excerpts only.
I cannot hope to satisfy anyone with a definition of aesthetic experience, but let me wager that those moments that let me identify with the world a-subjectively – but not objectively – are commonly associated in my mind with bleakness. My brain chemistry, my environment, and similar contingent influences have rendered me this way. So be it. Bleakness manifests most often when I am faced with what is most distinctly impersonal: with cloudscapes and dimmed, wet treescapes. Or better yet, any time I witness a stark material disfiguration of the real by our species. And flowering from this is a bleak outlook correlated with the immense, consistent, and mostly hidden, suffering that is our history – our being. The intensity arising from the global reach of suffering becomes impressive when dislocated from the personal and the particular because then you realize that it belongs to us. Whatever the instigator the result is the same: I am alerted not just to the depths of unknowing that I embody, to the fact that I will never know most of life, but also to the industrial-scale sorrow consistently operative in being. All that is, is a misstep away from ruin...  
Today there are projects that explicitly register all this, and nonetheless intend to operate in line with the potentiality contained within the capacities of reason. What differentiates these projects, oftentimes rationalist in nature, is that they do not follow our various universalist legacies in simply conceiving of the general human as deserving of dignity simply because we all belong to the same class of suffering beings. This is not sufficient to make humans act well. The phenomenon of suffering is easily recognizable and most humans are acutely aware of it, and yet they continue to act in ways contrary to how we ‘ought’ to respond. In fact, it is clear that knowing the sheer scale of suffering may lead to hedonism, egoism or repression... [...]
One might suggest that we need only a minimal condition to be ethical. An appeal to the reality of pain in sentient and sapient creatures, perhaps. In that decision you might find solace – despite everything (or in spite of everything). It is a choice, however. Our attempts to assert an ethical universalism are bound up with a counter-logic: the bleak truth of contingency on the basis of the impersonal-in-the-personal. It is a logic quietly operative in the philosophical tradition and one I believe has been suppressed. Self-suppressed it flirts too much with a line leading us to the truth of our hallucination. It’s Nietzsche telling you about perspectivism hinging on the impersonal will-to-power and then you maturing, and forgetting...  
Speaking of sales, all kinds of new realism are being hawked on the various para-academic street-corners. All of them benefit from a tint of recognizability rooted, I would suggest, in the fact that ontological realism has always been hidden in plain sight; for any continentalist willing to look. What is different today is how the question of the impersonal attachments affecting the human comes not from inside philosophy, but from a number of external pressures. In what can only be described as a tragic situation for metaphysicians, truth now seeps into the discipline from the outside. We see thinking these days where philosophers promised there was none. The brilliance of continental realism lies in reminding us how this is an immense opportunity for philosophers to wake up from various self-induced slumbers, even if that means stepping outside the protected circle from time to time. It involves bringing this bubbling, left-over question of ontological realism right to the fore. This does not mean ontological realism will come to be accepted and then casually integrated into the tradition. If anything the backlash may eviscerate it, but the attempt will have been made. Or was, and quietly passed...  
Some need hope, no? As I write this I feel the beautiful soul rising from his armchair, but I do not want to hear it. Bleak theory is addressed to your situation: a first worlder inhabiting an accelerated malaise. The ethics to address poverty, inequality, and hardship will be different. Our own heads are disordered and we do not quite know how to respond to the field outside it. You will feel guilty for your myopia, and you deserve it, but you cannot elide by endlessly pointing to the plank in the other’s eye. You can pray through your tears, and in doing so ironically demonstrate the disturbance left by the death of God, but what does this shore up? It builds upon cathedral ruins: those sites where being is doubled-up and bent-over-backwards trying to look inconspicuous as just another option. Do you want to write religion back into being? Why not, as Ayache suggests, just ruin yourself? I hope it is clear I don’t have any answers: all clarity is a lie these days. I can only offer bleak theory as a way of seeing and perhaps a way of operating. It ‘works’ as follows: begin with confusion and shear away at what you can. Whatever is left is likely the closest thing approximating to what we name truth. It will be strictly negative. Elimination of errors is the best you can hope for... 
I don’t know how to end this, so I am just going to end it.
For those interested, After Nature blog has the following posts below which speak to many themes in the above article. To sum though, I think Nick Land said it best when he wrote that the "God or Nature" decision is a decision of equivalence, as there is only one law that all must obey, and in fact, Gnon has no other supreme principle. One law, and one only: "Reality Rules."

See After Nature posts (linked):

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cosmic accelerationism

"As the bubble expands forever, the volume of this universe would increase without limit..."

Aeon has an article up HERE covering accelerating cosmic expansion and "bubble" universes, multiverses, and so on. Essentially the article points to how not only philosophically but cosmologically accelerationism as applied to the cosmos is true. From the article:
By taking careful measurements of supernovae and other indicators, cosmologists can now plot the expansion rate of the Universe accurately as a function of time and, using Einstein’s equations of general relativity, determine the value of the vacuum energy. The latest measurement is that it is 7 x 10-30 grammes per cubic centimetre. We can also determine the ratio of the pressure to the energy density in dark energy today...
That ratio indicates how dark energy changes over time, and how the Universe changes with it... 
As far as we know, this doubling could go on forever. Distant galaxies will flee from us because of the stretching of space between us and them. After a sufficient number of doublings, the space between them and us will be stretching so fast that their light will no longer be able to cross this ever-widening gap to reach us. Distant galaxies will fade from view and we will find ourselves seemingly alone in the visible Universe....Vacuum energy is not just a recipe for cosmic loneliness. It could also be an agent of change, destruction and rebirth. The value of vacuum energy depends on the values of different fields permeating empty space.... 
Life would be hard inside the bubble, too. Within these bubbles, vacuum energy is large and negative, with a large positive pressure. Because pressure dominates, there is an overall strong gravitational attraction, which has a crushing effect. Any object like Earth that you might imagine forming inside the bubble would be squashed quickly, due to the big overall gravitational attraction of the negative vacuum energy. 
If a bubble formed inside the 28-billion-light-year radius, we would die as surely as that fly on the windshield.
My question would be, does cosmic acceleration tend toward Being with zero degree, as in, the cosmos "ends" both in terms of space and time by way of death-by-generality - a "flat line" of true cosmic darkness Absolute? Or, given that same acceleration, does some sort of pluralistic mutiplication of particulars occur where intelligence multi-proliferates into innumerable intelligences, proliferations, and particulars such that the speed of generalization equals infinity and any form of "zero degree" and emptiness would be impossible?

The History channel used to have quite a few "end of the universe" episodes up on YouTube which put into layterms alof of these scenarios. Sadly though they've been removed for what I imagine to be copyright issues. Still, if you can find one they are always worth watching.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book about extraterrestrials and religious belief, and article "Humans Would Be Cool with Finding Aliens" ( article)

A new study, one of very few of its kind, finds that people typically respond quite positively to the notion of life on other planets. The study investigated the possibility of finding microbial extraterrestrials, not intelligent E.T.s, so people's responses might be a little different if they were told an armada of aliens were headed toward Earth, cautioned study author Michael Varnum, a psychologist at Arizona State University. Nevertheless, he noted, large portions of people believe that intelligent aliens do exist and that they've visited Earth; so even a more dramatic announcement might not ruffle feathers. 
"What this suggests is, there's no reason to be afraid" of sharing news of astrobiology with the public, Varnum told Live Science. "We won't collapse. We're not going to have chaos in the streets."
Link to the full article HERE.

Also of interest particular to those who read about the possibility of extraterrestrial life's implications for religious belief might be THIS book, Vast Universe: Extraterrestrials and Christian Revelation. Glancing at the table of contents and introduction I was led to believe that the topic is covered rather intelligently and makes a good case for the compatibility of religious belief with the potential discovery of extraterrestrial life. The language, or terms such as "star people" and "star friends" sounds very Kantian and cosmic-cosmopolitan in nature and is a huge bonus for me.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Plant Minds: A Philosophical Defense (NDPR review)

Plant Minds: A Philosophical Defense
// Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Chauncey Maher, Plant Minds: A Philosophical Defense, Routledge, 2017, 131 pp., $70.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781138739192.
Reviewed by Colin Allen, University of Pittsburgh

What do you know about plants? You might not be surprised to hear that plants account for much more of the planet's biomass than animals -- hundreds of times more, in some estimates. You may, however, be surprised to learn that the number of plant species is relatively small compared to the number of animal species. It is an interesting question why plants have not diversified as much as animals have, but perhaps their immobility accounts for it. Nevertheless, with somewhere in the range of 300,000 to 400,000 species (estimates vary widely), there is plenty enough diversity among plants to yield some very interesting adaptations, from communication to carnivory.

Read More

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Legacy of Kant in Sellars and Meillassoux: Analytic and Continental Kantianism

For those interested, the book The Legacy of Kant in Sellars and Meillassoux: Analytic and Continental Kantianism, while perhaps being abit limited to specialists in some fairly narrow fields within philosophy, nevertheless does seem to have quite a few interesting avenues of query available for those with a broader interest in the history of philosophy.

I do not own this book but say as much from previewing what I could from it and by inferring that the book is the result of THIS conference (do check out their website). I'll copy below the table of contents and insert a link to the publishers website. But this would certainly be a book I'd love to review, if not to see what contemporary philosophy is doing with Kant and Sellars, and road of development which has as far as I can tell produced some very interesting in-roads and results.

Chapters include:

"After Kant, Sellars, and Meillassoux: Back to Empirical Realism?" by James R. O’Shea
"Sellars and Meillassoux: a Most Unlikely Encounter" by Aude Bandini
"Correlation, Speculation, and the Modal Kant-Sellars Thesis" by Ray Brassier
"Speculative Materialism or Pragmatic Naturalism?: Sellars contra Meillassoux" by Carl B. Sachs
"How to Know that we Know? The contemporary Post-Kantian problem of a priori synthetic judgments" by Anna Longo
"Toward the Thing-in Itself: Sellars’ and Meillassoux’s Divergent Conception of Kantian Transcendentalism" by Dionysis Christias
"A Plea for Narcissus. On the Transcendental Reflexion /\ Refraction Mediation Tandem" by Gabriel Catren
"Speculating the Real: On Quentin Meillassoux’s Philosophical Realism" by Joseph Cohen
"‘It is not until we have eaten the apple’: Forestalling the Necessity of Contingency" by Muhannad Hariri
"Puncturing the Circle of Correlation: Rationalism, Materialism, and Dialectics" by Daniel Sacilotto

Link to publisher's site HERE. Description below:
Contemporary interest in realism and naturalism, emerging under the banner of speculative or new realism, has prompted continentally-trained philosophers to consider a number of texts from the canon of analytic philosophy. The philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars, in particular, has proven remarkably able to offer a contemporary re-formulation of traditional "continental" concerns that is amenable to realist and rationalist considerations, and serves as an accessible entry point into the Anglo-American tradition for continental philosophers. With the aim of appraising this fertile theoretical convergence, this volume brings together experts of both analytic and continental philosophy to discuss the legacy of Kantianism in contemporary philosophy. The individual essays explore the ways in which Sellars can be put into dialogue with the widely influential work of Quentin Meillassoux, explaining how—even though their methods, language, and proximal influences are widely different—their philosophical stances can be compared thanks to their shared Kantian heritage and interest in the problem of realism. This book will be appeal to students and scholars who are interested in Sellars, Meillassoux, contemporary realist movements in continental philosophy, and the analytic-continental debate in contemporary philosophy.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Involvement of the brain in the experience of chronic pain

At several points the article comes close to "blaming" the patient insofar as there now has been shown to be a direct contribution by the brain (rather than a mere reaction by the body) in the experience of pain. This is nothing new though, but I fear the fact that cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to "affect" changes in the brain (although studies have not conclusively shown this nor have studies shown that the affect is experienced as a reduction in the perception of pain) may be used as further excuse to place pain almost exclusively in the category of "mere perception." Naturally, then, the experience of pain is said to be the patient's fault because only the patient would be unwilling (or unable) to change that perception of pain.  Terms such as "guarding," "pain catastrophizing," and "fear avoidant behavior" make their appearances in tandem with stating explicitly that "over sensitization" in the perception of pain is physiologically explained by genetics, and implicitly stating that cognitive behavioral therapy alone is an appropriate form of treatment in cases of severe chronic pain (because afterall, pain is "all in the head anyway"). Making matters worse, this new line of thinking follows upon the United State's current hysterics over opioids and considering what positive role opioids might play when appropriately included in a regimen that would actually treat pain, rather than just explain its perception - for the research cited suggests that simply stating pain is mostly a subjective perception is enough to serve as some form of treatment of it (i.e. explanation of pain somehow equals treatment). This puts pain patients at even more of a disadvantage in getting the help they need, moreso than ever before.

Link HERE.

Friday, December 8, 2017

What professional responsibility comes with being an editor-in-chief?

Bill Benzon at New Savannah posted some time back a blog post, "Is formal peer-review really useful anymore?", HERE. The post highlights formal peer-review versus "review by peers" (a much less formal if not completely informal and speedy form of review), and the question as to what purpose review by peers might serve as a "weeding out" mechanism of sorts.

Citing Timothy Gowers of TLS, the post mentions how review by peers before formal peer-review can establish "reliability" in addition to "weeding out the chaff" and "providing feedback to authors." These in the name of determining what scholarship is more valuable than other scholarship and justifying "quick judgments" regarding authors' ideas in certain journals versus others. I should note Benzon's own position here is rather neutral and so I am addressing Gowers moreso than I am Benzon, despite Benzon's post where I initially encountered this thought.

My own perspective is that when it comes to open access journals especially, in the name of the democratization of knowledge formal peer-review instead of review by peers would be the preferred route of review. That is, much like Rawls' veil of ignorance in his theory of justice, blind peer-review (the formal component of it) pretty much eliminates the worst of what inevitably occurs with the worst of review by peers. While there is still the chance of nepotism and the channeling of a journal or book series into ideological organ based upon content, at least authorship is depersonalized and the quality of content, i.e. scholarship, becomes focus. I say this because from my experience political agendas and gate-keeping has come into play on more than one occasion. But I'll come back to that in a moment.

As THIS article points out, titled rather succinctly "Many academics are eager to publish in worthless journals," many open access journals out of desperation abandon formal peer-review in favor of review by peers not to ensure expediency in decision-making, not to better categorize papers as either fitting the journal's theme versus not, nor even to "weed out the chaff" and separate quality scholarship from the rest; but rather to continue an ideological agenda, push or return favors, or simply maintain someone's "spot" (and the corresponding pecking order of their acolytes). This all in the name of weeding out the chaff, which results to not much more than empty gesturing. All too often those whom the editors simply dislike or have decided to blackball from their small neck of the woods (usually some highly specific corner of field x in the philosophy of y) are cut out despite the quality of their scholarship. Had formal review been in place the editors would have been forced to confront their own prejudice and that prejudice at least become visible to others involved in the process, but that hardly ever occurs. It is no surprise that given the review by peers landscape is advantageous to those who happen to have grabbed the vetting power, it is often the preferred form of review in cases where charlatanism and cronyism are rampant anyhow. In short, review by peers over any formal sort of review is a sure-fire way to establish and then secure someone's level of importance or influence beyond what it would be in reality had some other process been going on, or in some cases it even allows philosophers to continue on in a game of charlatanism and dupe others into believing that x "make believe" philosophy exists when in fact it doesn't (again, speculative realism is an excellent case in point).

Returning to speculative realism for a moment, as my post concerning the Edinburgh University Press Speculative Realism Series from several weeks ago HERE has indicated (a post which netted around 750+ views as expected), it appears that the problems concerning a lack of objectivity and professionalism extend far and beyond what many might even realize. My experience was not with Edinburgh but rather Open Humanities Press (a different series within Open Humanities mind you, as I published with OHP anyway but decided to work with another editor who I found to be eminently more professional and actually, you know, fair in their decision-making). However, as I stated in that post, the editor whom I initially was going to contact at OHP wouldn't even agree to receive a manuscript proposal simply because I was the person who wrote it! This without really even knowing me personally, without ever even having spoken to me. So if that's not review by peers rather than formal peer-review I don't know what is. Fantastic to believe, I know. But it is true. Yes, this particular OHP editor refused to read a book proposal before it was ever sent to them, before this person even knew what it was about, before they ever even knew a title, a length, a subject, etc.  Based strictly on my name and the fact they did not like me for whatever reason, and nothing else. Not the level of my scholarship, not my talent, not the quality of my work - but upon what amounted to gossip and hearsay, second-rate information that they "heard" and formed an opinion of me which had no basis in reality and turned out to be false anyway. So, obviously that's a huge problem if that editor, whose job it is to be a consummate professional and behave as much, especially if someone is made editor of a series that has even an iota of pretense to be willing to look at submissions from anyone (even critical submissions - yeah right), or any pretense at all to having a fair or objective review process that would give them or their series credibility. That's what is lost with so-called review by peers. (Needless to say, many years later as this person went on to become the editor for other book series/journals one has to question: how can their judgment be trusted now? Afterall, clearly decisions weren't being made in virtue of the quality of work but rather someone's identity alone. What reason would one to think that that has changed? Further, what does this say about the work that they have agreed to edit? Was it because of that work's quality rather than political ties? We'll never know.)

To sum, Brian Leiter's post (mentioned in mine earlier) references an open access journal Open Philosophy that explicitly claims it does not tow party lines or push specific political agendas, however that is the sort of wait-and-see claim which I suspect will result in disappointment, much like the case of the Edinburgh University Press Speculative Realism series has or PhilPapers and its editorialship has (again, the Speculative Realism series at PhilPapers has had its fair share of specific authors' work going missing or just never even being acknowledged as a submission, supposedly due to "technical errors" - how convenient! And to think, a book whose title is Speculative Realism: An Epitome is nowhere to be found in PhilPapers given that "Speculative Realism" is a category and the book has that same title. Now that omission is really convenient, wouldn't you say?).

But, you get the idea. My point here isn't that I have some axe to grind or am upset that my own work has been subjected to such silliness. Given that I would end up publishing the book anyway and that it has since been acknowledged and reviewed (quite positively in many cases) by those in that particular area of study, as well as is said to be one of the more objective (as is possible) commentaries on the topic, which is a rarity, I wouldn't be complaining about my situation personally or about any one editor, series, or person individually. My point simply is to address how dangerous and fallible a "review by peers" process can be and that more often than not its intention of providing expediency while at the same time maintaining fairness is more or less, a pipe dream. I have gone at lengths to support this claim with my own experience regarding the situation, that's all. But it is a situation which is much too common.

There is much, way too much, peer review that isn't much more than cronyism, and it needs to stop. One needn't look much further than speculative realism and its world of publishing as a good case in point. But obviously given the fallible nature of the process itself, given human nature, it occurs most times where formal peer review isn't taking place. And that is something which I believe needs to change.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

End of the World As We Know It: What's the Draw of Dystopian Sci-Fi? (article)

LiveScience online magazine with a very nice article HERE. What stood out to me in particular was how science fiction enables one to speculatively imagine a future which isn't as bright as many suppose technological science would deliver us unto. The best of science fiction, I think at least, allows one to feel as if the future in question is right around the corner, even if five minutes away.

Science fiction inevitably is a speculative-imaginative philosophical enterprise allowing human beings to not only consider what French philosopher Quentin Meillassoux has titled "the great outdoors," but to partake in a radical form of deanthropocentric and bleak ecological transcendence by imagining what twentieth century process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead referred to as other cosmic epochs being possible, including futures without the human.

For some H.P. Lovecraft accomplishes this with his use of the horror genre and correspondingly his "cosmic pessimism." I, however, do not find Lovecraft so potent. I find that science fiction, not horror, is the truly more philosophical literature of the two.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Quantum of Explanation: Whitehead's Radical Empiricism (NDPR review)

This is refreshing considering the amount of questionable Whitehead scholarship published as of late. Auxier teaches process philosophy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is a trusted source on the topic.

The Quantum of Explanation: Whitehead's Radical Empiricism
// Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // News

2017.12.03 : View this Review Online

Randall E. Auxier and Gary L. Herstein, The Quantum of Explanation: Whitehead's Radical Empiricism, Routledge, 2017, 370pp., $150.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781138700161.
Reviewed by George Lucas, U.S. Naval Academy

This is an insightful and provocative account of Whitehead's metaphysics by two gifted and determined scholars. It centers on the claim that the key concept in that metaphysical system, the "actual entity" or "actual occasion" (res vera), is an explanatory, illustrative, or heuristic concept (as the so-called "Bohr atom" serves in physics, for example), and decidedly neither a "Ding-an-sich" nor a descriptive account of what "actuality" is actually composed of.

Instead, the authors identify Whitehead's technically challenging metaphysics as his effort to understand "the quantum of explanation" rather than to disclose some fundamental quantum of Being itself. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Nietzsche as Social Critic: “Twilight of the Idols” (Part One) (Partially Examined Life podcast)

Partially Examined Life podcast put out another rather interesting episode on Nietzsche. I believe there are at least two other Nietzsche episodes in their several years-long history, each worth listening to.

Episode 178: Nietzsche as Social Critic: "Twilight of the Idols" (Part One)
// The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast

On Friedrich Nieztsche's 1888 book summarizing his thought and critiquing the founding myths of his society. He defends "spiritualized" instinct and frenzied creativity, but also Napoleon and war. We try to figure out what kind of social critic he'd be today. Would we actually like him?